Legislators in the United States have recently involved themselves in Internet regulation. The House of Representatives introduced in January 2001 a bill opposing the imposition of criminal liability on Internet service providers based on the actions of their users.(1)
Also, a Stop Material Unsuitable for Teens Act, bill number 1523, was introduced in the House of Representatives. The goal of the bill is to prohibit the transport of obscene materials to minors through the Internet. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary in April 2001.(2)
A bill in the Senate now, Senate bill number 42, discusses provisions relating to public education and the Internet. The bill limits the use of the Internet at school or public libraries.
This act requires public schools that provide access to the Internet to either use filtering software, or to purchase Internet service through a provider that filters the material that can be accessed. A public library may either use filtering software or otherwise restrict minors' access to the Internet by local rule. Any school official who neglects or refuses to comply with these legal duties shall be subject to the same criminal penalty provided in Section 162.091 (a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not more than $500 or up to one year in jail). Any public school employee or public library employee or Internet service provider who complies with the law shall not be liable if a minor gains access to pornographic material through the use of the school's computer, according to the Thomas Website. (3)
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Many organizations and individuals believe that regulation of such sites and other controversial sites would be an infringement on their First Amendment right to free speech.
One such group is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (4), an online campaign for free speech online.
The site said a protest was planned nationwide on April 20, 2001 in response to the implementation of Congressionally-mandated Internet blocking in schools and libraries.
The protests will take place at Federal Communications Commission offices, other federal offices, libraries, and Internet blocking companies, as well as in "blackouts" of Web sites in support of the protest.
"The government-mandated requirement for Internet blocking in schools and libraries violates the free expression rights of American, adults and minors alike," explained Will Doherty, EFF Online Activist, on the Web site.
"We must protest Congressionally-mandated Internet blocking because it censors Constitutionally-protected materials, stunts the intellectual growth of American children, and weighs unfairly on disadvantaged and 'controversial' communities."
Internet blocking technologies under-block what they are supposed to block and over-block what they are not supposed to block, the article said. They rely on subjective control from software product companies many of whom exhibit clear political and religious biases, rather than relying on local communities to decide for themselves.
The article said the products are error-prone, vulnerable, problematic, and unfairly discriminatory, denying access to constitutionally protected and educationally important materials schools and libraries would otherwise provide. Government-mandated censorship does not solve problems better handled through local decision-making and educational efforts.
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